Headed to College? What You Must Know

College costs and career options being what they are, students heading toward higher education would do well to keep a few basics in mind. After all, even President Obama’s daughter Malia has big decisions to make as she chooses which college to enroll in next fall.

Sure, you should scope out possible scholarships well ahead of time, and make sure to fill out that FAFSA form. But do you know how to study properly so you don’t bomb out of Intro to Western Civilization halfway through first semester?

See related story: Start College Planning Early, Experts Say

A Grand Valley State University student gives a tour of campus to prospective students and their parents Those are a few of the thoughts offered by area higher-education officials who agreed to provide School News Network with advice for college-bound students. We asked admissions officers to name three things they wish more students knew about college in order to be better prepared for it.

Following are their responses, on everything from making the most of your campus visits to getting your academics up to snuff. Happy college hunting!

‘So often students who do well in high school get to college and find the environment very different from the environment in high school.’ – Jodi Chycinski, GVSU Jodi Chycinski, director of admissions, Grand Valley State University

1. Many colleges and universities provide academic scholarships based on the student’s cumulative high school grade-point average and standardized test scores.  Beginning with the student’s freshman year, they should be focused on achieving academically as well as they can to give themselves as many opportunities as possible for college in the future.

2. Successful students in college take advantage of resources available to them. So often students that do well in high school get to college and find the environment very different from the environment in high school. It is really important to use services such as tutoring, writing centers and talking with faculty before you feel like you are struggling! 

3. Many freshmen share that they do not know how to study when they get to college. They were able to successfully get through high school, but the demands of college quickly make them aware of their own limitations. High school students should spend some time understanding about their own personal learning style. There are many quick assessments online to help them figure it out. Once they know their learning style, they should begin to adjust their study habits in high school and utilize techniques specific to that style that they can carry into college.


‘Many eligible students mistakenly believe they won't be eligible for financial aid.’ – Eric Mullen, GRCC Eric Mullen, associate dean of enrollment management and financial aid, Grand Rapids Community College

1. Complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid)! Too many students don’t. Many eligible students mistakenly believe they won’t be eligible for financial aid because their families make too much money. Big mistake! In 2013, students who didn’t fill out their FAFSA missed out on over $2.9 billion in available Pell grant funds — over $90 million in Michigan alone. In addition, many colleges and universities use FAFSA data to make both merit and need-based awards. Not completing it can mean not being considered for these awards. Need help filling out the form? Just ask the institution you’ve applied to!

2. Is a four-year degree right for all students? Not necessarily. However, having a post-secondary credential is important for all students. Our regional economy requires skilled training and a strong knowledge base. GRCC offers many one- and two-year programs that equip students with the in-demand skills needed to fill great jobs. Also, having a post-high school credential greatly increases your lifelong earning potential and quality of life. Our Career Coach tool can help you explore your options.

3. The basics still matter! No matter what kind of degree or career you want to pursue, being able to read, write and use math will serve you well. Make sure you work with your high school counselor to select classes all the way through your senior year that will help you build this foundation. Need to brush up? A new partnership between Kahn Academy and The College Board provides free SAT preparation and can help boost your academic skills to college-ready levels.  

‘Most importantly, you figure out if a campus feels enough like home to make it yours.’ – JessicaSimon, FSU Jessica Simon, coordinator of communications and visitor services, Ferris State University 

1. Ferris does a good job of letting people know that our application is completely free. But we wish students knew just how much other free help is available to them. From tutoring and student groups to counseling and helping you get a job, Ferris and most other institutions offer great resources to help you be successful. 

2. You have a lot of choices when figuring out where to go to school, so we always tell students to visit as many of their options as they are able. Ferris offers an admissions presentation, a campus tour and free lunch during our visits, and we also can help schedule a meeting with a program adviser. You get so much out of a campus visit, but most importantly, you figure out if a campus feels enough like home to make it yours.

3. In terms of financial aid and scholarships, we wish parents and students knew to be as proactive as possible. There is a scholarship for just about anything — for example, being left-handed can qualify you for scholarships! Ferris has some great internal academic scholarships, and also has plenty of links to outside scholarship search engines.


Grand Valley State University admissions

Grand Rapids Community College admissions

Ferris State University admissions

Malia Obama’s college search

Got a question for our panel of pros? Email it us and we’ll get you the answer!

Charles Honey
Charles Honey is a freelance writer and former columnist for The Grand Rapids Press/ MLive.com. As a reporter for The Press from 1985 to 2009, his beats included Grand Rapids Public Schools, local colleges and education issues. Honey served as editor of The Press’ award-winning Religion section for 15 years. His freelance articles have appeared in Christianity Today magazine and the Aquinas College alumni magazine. Read Charles' full bio.


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